Debunking Trump

If you’ve ever listened to Donald Trump speaking, whether on television or in a video on Facebook, you probably came out of the experience left a little confused. I don’t blame you. But I would be willing to bet that, no matter your political orientation, there is at least an infinitesimal part of you that wants to believe this guy. He didn’t really say anything, but he obviously knows what he’s talking about, right? He drilled it into your brain. This is the dangerous subtlety of Donald Trump-speak (DTS): a paradoxical dialect that combines monosyllabic, conversational language with a rhetorical monsoon of empirically unfounded, fear-filled content. Donald Trump spends more time convincing you of his credibility than actually imparting any information, ideally distracting audiences from the utter lack of factuality in his words. This is perfect for Trump, who generally speaks on topics with which he is entirely unfamiliar. He is steadfast in his rhetorical decisions, even his bad ones, and his painstaking persistence and confidence are generally the only things sustaining his credibility. It is essential we acknowledge these red herrings to better understand the fear-mongering, hate-filled ignorance at the root of Trump’s speeches.

Here are some rules of DTS to keep in mind while deconstructing it:

1. Donald Trump-Speak is very conversational.

Much of Donald Trump’s speech is incredibly informal, as if he were having a conversation with the listener. The goal of this is to seem more approachable and relatable. While speaking DTS, you’re an everyday Joe or Jane that’s just “getting to the point” with a bunch of “looks” and “you know’s.”

2.     Use powerful, simple buzzwords, and repeat them. A lot.

Donald Trump uses a few key buzzwords repeatedly. Two of his notorious favorites are “tremendous” and “huge." These buzzwords often end sentences or are placed near the end of sentences, to really stick out in the reader’s/listener’s mind.

3.     Use words with more than one syllable as rarely as possible.

Donald Trump does not use words with more than one syllable very often. Again, because the dialect is so essentially conversational, complex words would just seem out of place. Multi-syllable words can be used under two circumstances: out of necessity defined by the topic at hand, and to use for aforementioned buzzwords. Because it is so rare to hear Donald Trump use a word that is more than one syllable, words with two or more syllables are intrinsically emphasized. This adds another layer of emphasis to the “important” words, which should number no more than five and be repeated cyclically.

4.     Trail off or change the topic mid-sentence.

This is a unique aspect of DTS and contributes even further to its brash informality. However, the mid-sentence topic-change, if it’s going to happen, needs to be extreme. It needs to signal a complete change of course. The result is grammatically atrocious, but for a Trump supporter who does not see through the bullshit, this capriciousness will be interesting and exciting. Most of the time, it functions as a way to start a new thought when Trump was about to repeat the same idea for the 15th time, or when he cannot think of a good way to transition, so boldly changing the subject is going to have to suffice. In this way, he can put a previous thought to rest and introduce a new idea without the usual bother of logical transitional phrasing. More practically, trailing off mid-sentence is a great way for Trump, who has momentarily lost his way, to start saying the first thing that comes to mind, get back on-track mid-sentence, and brazenly move on without recognizing the blunder. If he doesn’t act like it was a mistake, the audience won’t believe it was a mistake.

5.     Defer to the alleged advice of informed friends.

Donald Trump seems to have an endless number of advisees, or “friends,” that conveniently and unwaveringly support absolutely everything he says or decides. These friends often don’t exist, or they do, but were in fact hired by Trump himself. In any case, deferring to this “informed” counsel is Trump’s way of both boosting his own credibility, where evidence is lacking from credible sources, as well as adding a conversational element to the speech. Everyone, all of his “friends,” always seem to be calling Donald Trump and thanking him for everything he has done; whether or not this is actually true, it certainly makes him sound more reputable to people who don’t suspect him otherwise.

6.     Hyper-boost your own credibility with extremes.

This is the bread-and-butter of Donald Trump-speech. When Trump is speaking, he is the best at everything, and no one does what he does better than he does. He doesn’t just know some great doctors – he knows the best doctors. People are not just in danger, they’re dying. These extremes are meant to put fear, disguised as allegiance, in the hearts of the listener, or at least to emphasize the point he is trying to make. Trump then unfailingly swoops in with his solution – which is the best solution – to the problem he has identified (or incited), which will be the end of humankind if not attended to.  

7.     Use “us vs. them” rhetoric whenever possible.

So, Trump’s scared the shit out of his audience – great. Now, what is the cause? For such a simple hatred and fear, listeners will need a simple subject of blame. This is where Trump brings in the people, or groups of people (i.e. entire nations, entire religious groups) he would like to demonize. This is a fascinating feature of DTS that persuades listeners to his side of the “argument” while simultaneously demonizing anyone or anything he thinks is in his way. Instead of actually learning anything about the topic at hand, Trump’s audience will learn to be afraid of Mexicans, “China,” Crooked Hillary, and whatever it is Kellyanne Conway believes is happening in Bowling Green. Trump doesn’t need to know anything about what he’s saying; he simply needs to frighten the listeners and assure them, confidently, that he has the solution. Listeners who are convinced by Trump will undoubtedly follow whatever he says, and he knows this. If done well, speaking in DTS can accomplish a great feat of multitasking while using massively simple language and unfounded information in the most poorly structured way possible – and you’ll still pull the vote of almost half a nation.

Incredulously, the more abstract and little-known the topic, the more successful Donald Trump is at convincing an audience. The listeners, in the face of their own lack of prior knowledge and the allure of Donald Trump’s brazenly confident speech, can feel they have no other choice but to believe the only information on the topic that they have. This is why Trump’s rhetorical skill is so crucial to the argument, which is also why we, as academics, contributing members of a democratic society, and generally good people, should deconstruct it to reclaim fact and truth.